On March 31, 1999--seven days into NATO's air war--three U.S. Army soldiers were captured by Serb forces as they were patrolling the border between Macedonia and Yugoslavia. They were held in Serbia as prisoners of war for 32 days. The men - Staff Sergeant Andrew A. Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Staff Sergeant Christopher J. Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan, and Specialist Steven M. Gonzales, 21, of Huntsville, Texas - were part of the NATO peacekeeping forces based in Macedonia. At the time, Serbs maintained that the men had been on Yugoslav territory when they were captured. The soldiers say that they were on the Macedonian side of the border.
Their Humvee began taking fire as they passed through a border village, and soon was surrounded by 20 or 30 Yugoslav soldiers, according to the men. When the Humvee got stuck in a ditch, the soldiers surrendered. They were severely beaten and then taken prisoner. On April 1, interviews with the battered and bruised soldiers were broadcast on Serbian national television. Initially, Serbian leaders said they would place the three men on trial, but later relented and said the soldiers would be treated as prisoners of war. They were then held in prison, tortured, and interrogated. After diplomatic attempts to secure their release by the Cypriot politician, Spyros Kyprianou, failed, American religious leader Reverend Jesse Jackson led a delegation of Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy to Yugoslavia to negotiate for their freedom. At the time, Clinton Administration officials said they did not approve of Jackson's trip, and that he did not have authority to negotiate on behalf of the Administration, and that they could not guarantee his safety. Jackson's negotiations with Milosevic succeeded, however, and the soldiers were released on May 2.
Upon their return to the U.S., the three were awarded Purple Hearts by President Clinton. Stone and Gonzales later chose to leave active duty; Ramirez has said that he will remain in the Army, working in public affairs in Fort Irwin, California, until his enlistment ends in November, 2000.
Stone was the commander in charge of the men in the Humvee. When the Serbs made him kneel facing the wall with a gun to his head, in a mock execution, he believed they were all going to be killed.
(clip requires RealPlayer G2 and a 56K modem)
In this excerpt from his interview, Sergeant Christopher Stone describes the Serb ambush, capture and "mock execution" of the American soldiers.